First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Crooked houses, colour-washed in apricot and cream, pink and burnt orange, line Kersey’s single village street that slopes from the high-perched church to the water-splash in the valley bottom. Suffolk has dozens of beautiful villages, enriched through medieval wool wealth and dignified through age, but none matches Kersey for sheer eye-catching perfection. The rippling water-splash reflected a blue sky as Jane and I set out up the street with our long-term friend Patsie for company.
On the outskirts of Kersey we noticed a gathering of wasps, questing round a hollow in a hedge root. Looking in, we saw their nest – a wall of papery fibre, the colours of white and milk chocolate. A cleanly cut footpath led us away across an enormous prairie field, a mile of hedgeless upland where oak spinneys stood marooned. At first sight the field seemed bereft of all wild flowers, but a closer look showed scarlet pimpernel, speedwell and tiny pink cranesbills in the cracked soil, while stands of great willow-herb grew in strips where the ditches used to be.
A sea-urchin fossil lay half smothered in the mud among flints and pebbles. I dug it out and held it up to admire the tiny rows of sockets where the urchin’s spines had grown. When it lived and died, perhaps 200 million years ago, warm tropical seas had stretched where we now stood – a concept that never fails to strike wonder in the imagination.
A tangle of quiet lanes led us to the chapel of St James. Back in medieval times, the tiny church and its priest lay under the control of the lords of Lindsey Castle. The proud castle is now a tumbled heap in an adjacent field; the humble chapel, built of roughly knapped flints nearly 800 years ago, stands renovated under its wooden Tudor roof. This simple prayer room was restored after centuries of use as a barn.
Our way ran on south over arable country. Down by the stream in Kersey Vale we sheltered in a hazel grove while rain pattered on the leaves and thunder groaned in the distance. The shower hissed away, the insects flew out of hiding to sun themselves, and flights of swallows swooped after them along the homeward path.
Start: Bell Inn, Kersey, Suffolk, IP7 6DY (OS ref TM 000442)
Getting there: Bus 112 from Hadleigh. Road – Kersey is signed off A1141, 2 miles north of Hadleigh
Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 196): From Bell Inn, uphill away from water-splash. At right bend, ahead up path to road (TL999443). Left; at left bend, right (997444) through hedge gap; north along field edge. In 500m, at hedge corner, left/west (995450, yellow arrow/YA) across field, past spinney (991450, arrow) and on to reach trees (985452). Into trees; in 15m, left through thicket into field (984452). Ahead with hedge on right to road (982450). Left; in 400m at T-junction, left (980447, ‘Kersey’) to T-junction (9814444). Right for 350m to St James’s Chapel (978444).
Return to T-junction (981444); ahead for 150m; right (982444, fingerpost) on path through trees. On across fields (yellow arrows) for ¾ mile to road (986433). Right to T-junction in Kersey Tye (985431). Left round left bend and continue (‘Kersey’) for 450m to T-junction. Left (90430, ‘Kersey’); in 100m, in Kersey Upland, right (‘Polstead’). In 200m, fork left off road beside Harts Cottage (992428) down gravel lane. In ¼ mile, where tree tunnel ends, left (995425) along field edge. In 100m, keep ahead with hedge on left, descending to stream (001427). Left (YA). In ¼ mile pass Vale Cottage (003430); in 100m at wood edge, left, then right down drive (fingerpost). Drive becomes tarmac lane; follow it for ½ mile past houses to road with Kersey church seen ahead (002437). Right; in 100m, left (‘Kersey St.’) into Kersey.
Lunch: Bell Inn, Kersey (01473-823229, kerseybell.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Gables, Hadleigh IP7 5EL (01473-828126, thegableshadleigh.co.uk) – everything just right, and very welcoming. Dinner at The Ram, Hadleigh (01473-822880, thehadleighram.co.uk) – upmarket cooking.
Info: Lavenham TIC (01787-248207)